The Miami Herald

Halloween: When back hair is fashionable

(This Dave Barry column was originally published Oct. 28, 2001.)

I love Halloween, because it reminds me of a simpler, more innocent time -- a time when I dressed up as a goblin and ran around the neighborhood shouting ``Trick or treat!''

But that was last year. This year, I think I'll have a more subdued costume. Maybe I'll dress up as a large piece of lumber and carry around a cardboard box labeled ''Interest Rates,'' and every few steps, I'll drop it. Get it? It's the Federal Reserve ''Board''! Dropping interest rates! Ha ha! I bet THAT will get a big reaction from the neighborhood kids! Probably in the form of eggs.

That's the problem with kids today: They don't know what Halloween is all about. It has been commercialized to the point where our young people think it's just ''fun and games.'' They know nothing about the somber origin of this holiday, which dates back to 1621, when the Pilgrims, having survived a difficult first winter in America, decided to express their thanks by dressing up in comical outfits with knickers and hats shaped like traffic cones and then went around playing pranks with what turned out -- tragically -- to be their last remaining roll of toilet paper, and thus as you can imagine their second winter was no picnic either. THAT is what Halloween is about, but try explaining it to these spoiled kids today, with their inexhaustible supplies of Charmin.

Oh, sure, we still teach our children some Halloween traditions. We teach them that this is a time when we buy pumpkins and carve faces into them. But we don't teach them the underlying spiritual reason WHY we do this, which is that each fall, the average American pumpkin farmer produces 17 trillion of these things, and if he doesn't get rid of them, they will rot, and everything the farmer owns, including his smaller children, will disappear under a gigantic cloud of flies. THAT is why we buy pumpkins and carve faces into them.

Maybe, this year, as a nation, we should try to get back to a more traditional kind of Halloween. For example, instead of letting our kids watch modern horror movies, with their ''high-tech'' special effects, we should rent some old traditional horror movies, such as the 1941 classic ''The Wolf Man,'' starring Lon Chaney Jr. There is nothing at all special about the effects in this movie. When Lon turns into a wolf, you see Lon, then you see the moon, then you see Lon again, and ... there's more hair on him! If you look closely, you can actually see the makeup person's hand darting out of the frame. This process continues until Lon has been transformed, chillingly, from an ordinary person into ... a person with obviously fake hair pasted all over him! Oooooh! Then Lon runs around attacking people in a maniacal fury, caused by the fact that he is itching like CRAZY.

I watched that movie a lot, growing up, and it affected me deeply, especially when I reached junior high school and I was the last member of my peer group to develop bodily hair. I used to deliberately hang out under the moon, hoping for something to sprout.

Yes, that is the kind of movie we should show our children this year, perhaps at a neighborhood Halloween party, where we can also do traditional craft projects. Here's a fun one to try!

HALLOWEEN CRAFT PROJECT: Get 24 pieces of 8- ½-by-11 construction paper, 12 black and 12 orange. Now cut each piece lengthwise into 68 identical strips ¼ inch wide and 5- ½ inches long. Form these into loops by fastening the ends with No. 3 staples. Now get a 7-by-11-inch baking pan and mix in the following: 7 ounces of distilled water, one ounce of balsamic vinegar, one teaspoon of clarified butter and 2.78 ounces of extruded bauxite, ground fine. Now put both hands on your behind and hop around the room shouting, ''Boom shacka lacka lacka! Boom shacka lacka lacka!'' Ha ha! Here in the newspaper industry, we LOVE giving you instructions for elaborate holiday craft projects that we would never dream of making ourselves. Our role model is Martha Stewart, who actually lives in a Motel 6 room furnished entirely with used KFC boxes.

After the crafts, how about telling the kids a traditional spooky ghost story? For added fun, have Dad secretly hide in the closet while Mom tells the story. When Mom gets to the climactic part where the ghost suddenly appears, imagine the squeals of delighted terror from the kids when ... nothing happens! Because Dad has fallen asleep in there. He's tired. We're all tired. But we WILL go on with Halloween, darn it. That's the kind of nation we are.

(c) Dave Barry

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